Apple’s latest keynote focused heavily on the flashy features of the new Apple TV. But how does this new Apple TV stack up against the competition? We’ve prepared a guide that will help you find the right streaming set top box for your needs. Should you opt for the shiny new Apple TV when it hits stores in October, or go for the slightly older (but still well-reviewed) Roku 3 that’s on sale now? Here’s how these two gadgets compare across some key areas:
1. New Apple TV vs. Roku 3: Price
The new Apple TV is more expensive than the Roku 3 player. The Roku 3 retails for $99.99, but certified refurbished models are also available for $71.99 via Amazon. The new Apple TVs vary in price depending on the amount of onboard storage you select. The 32GB Apple TV will retail for $149, or you can pay $199 for the 64GB model. The new Apple TV marks the first major refresh to the Apple TV lineup since 2012.
If price is your primary consideration, the Roku definitely has the edge. And since the cheaper Roku 2 is just as fast as Roku 3, you could really save some money and get a streaming box that’s just as zippy as the 3 (though admittedly missing a few key features you’d find on the newer model, like voice search).
2. New Apple TV vs. Roku 3: Ease of Navigation
There are two main ways of navigating on a set top box: the remote, and voice search. Both the Roku 3 and new Apple TV offer voice search, which can make it a lot easier to quickly find the specific content you want. Rather than navigate pages of menus, a simple voice command can find what you need. We have to say that the Siri Apple TV demo from Apple’s September Keynote looked quite impressive, with Siri able to find TV episodes without the user even having to know the exact episode title. The new Apple TV will also make it easy to use voice search to refine your search results. For example, you can search for “kids movies”, and then further refine the search to “just the animated ones”. The Apple TV also offers some nice features like closed captioning, actor lookup, and the ability to use a voice command to jump ahead in whatever you’re streaming. The big draw here is natural speech recognition.
Roku’s had a set top box with voice search on the market for longer than Apple has, so presumably they have had more time to work out the bugs. CNET‘s review of the Roku 3 called the voice search feature “the best on the market”. A little magnifying glass button on the remote can call up the voice search dialog. Say the name of a movie, TV show, actor, or director, and Roku will pull up a list of available media across a variety of channels. It’s pretty solid, but the Siri interface for the Apple TV does seem a bit more nimble, and capable of greater flexibility in how you search and navigate.
In terms of the remote, the new Apple TV’s controller lasts for about three months before needing a recharge. It has an accelerometer and gyroscope built in, and runs Bluetooth 4.0. The remote also has a touchscreen for controlling games or navigating the TV interface. Apple, like Roku, offers a smartphone/tablet app that can be used as a backup controller.
The Roku 3’s updated remote with voice search has a headphone jack for private listening. This is something the Siri Remote of the new Apple TV doesn’t offer. If you like being able to listen to TV while everyone else is in bed, this may be a reason to pick the Roku 3 over the Apple TV, despite the Apple TV’s apparent superiority when it comes to ease of navigation.
3. New Apple TV vs. Roku 3: Content Library & App Selection
Apple doesn’t have an exact list of available channels for the new Apple TV on their website, or an approximate list of the number of TV shows/movies available. Current Apple TV owners know that selection of channels can be a bit limited. We have both a Roku and an 2013 Apple TV in our house at the moment, and we often end up using the Roku more because it’s easier for local network streaming, or for finding more niche programming. You can peruse some of the Apple TV’s most popular channel offerings on the Apple TV info page. TechHive also has a nice channel-by-channel breakdown that explains the benefits of all the current Apple TV channels. What this box may lack in variety of channels, however, it definitely makes up in quality. The Apple TV has a more curated feel, while the Roku interface feels a little more open and customizable. That being said, some of the programming and shopping options for the new Apple TV (such as MLB, NHL, and Gilt) looked pretty cool during the September Keynote.
By the numbers, Roku looks pretty impressive. They offer over 1700 streaming channels, with about 100,000 different movie and TV episodes on offer across the platform. That figure doesn’t include other channels and media experiences, such as streaming music, live news, or sports. You can explore some of the most popular TV, movie, and music channels on Roku on the Roku website.
When it comes to comparing the quality of the content libraries on each set top box, it’s definitely a matter of personal tastes. If you love a lot of variety in your programming, or you really like niche types of movies, you might be better off with a Roku, at least for the time being. The Apple TV is certainly no slouch in the entertainment and sports departments. You should take the time to go over the latest channel listings for both devices, and see which lineup is most appealing to your unique tastes.
4. New Apple TV vs. Roku 3: Specs
The new-for-2015 Roku 3 has decent specs, but how does the hardware stack up against Apple’s latest and greatest? Surprisingly, they have similar limitations. Neither box supports 4K streaming at this time. This isn’t a big deal for many people, but for those who are looking to get a 4K TV this year, it’s definitely something to take note of. If you’re looking for a 4K set top box that also offers gaming, we recommend the NVIDIA SHIELD.
The new Apple TV runs on an A8 chip with 64-bit architecture. Key specs include HDMI 1.43, 802.11ac Wi‑Fi with MIMO, 10/100BASE-T Ethernet, and a USB‑C for service and support. Video quality tops out at H.264 video up to 1080p, at 60 frames per second.
Unlike the new Apple TV, the Roku 3 offers microSD expansion. The Roku 3 is the first Roku with a dual core processor, according to TechRadar. There’s no screen mirroring functionality (as you’d find on the Apple TV or on a Chromecast dongle). Some specs are hard to track down for the Roku 3, but it’s safe to say that the Apple TV has some benefits over the the Roku 3, and vice versa.
5. New Apple TV vs. Roku 3: Final Thoughts & Conclusion
Go hands on with the new Apple TV in the video above.
As with most gadget purchases, the “best” set top box is the one that best suits your unique needs. Just because one box might be “the best” on paper doesn’t mean it’s the best option for your home. There’s a lot of crossover in terms of key features. Both of these boxes offer limited, casual gaming experiences. Both will let you watch popular streaming content on Netflix and Hulu. And both set top boxes have some interesting content that’s unique to their given ecosystems. Heck, both boxes will even let you shop for clothes and accessories right from your own couch.
If you’re really strapped for cash, need microSD expansion, or if private listening is very important to your happiness, you should opt for the Roku 3. If you need more intuitive voice search, easy pairing with your other Apple devices, and a remote that’s got fewer buttons, the new-for-2015 Apple TV is probably the right streaming box for your home.